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2011 Faculty & Staff News

Longwood research on microaggression spurs development of outreach program

July 6, 2011

Dr. Stephanie Buchert (left) and Dr. Maureen Walls-McKay at the American College Health Association conference Dr. Stephanie Buchert (left) and Dr. Maureen Walls-McKay presented their research project, which also involved Dr. Don Fleming, at the American College Health Association annual conference in Phoenix recently.

An ongoing multidisciplinary research project on microaggression by three Longwood University faculty/staff members is spurring the development of an outreach program.

Based on their findings, Dr. Walls-McKay, associate director of the Counseling Center; Dr. Don Fleming, assistant professor of education; and Dr. Stephanie Buchert, associate professor of psychology, are currently working on developing an outreach program that will consist of peer-to-peer workshops. "These will take place in situations such as classrooms, residence halls, within student groups, et cetera," Buchert said. "We want to train an awareness of insensitivity and allow workshop participants to plan how they might deal with acts of microaggression."

Walls-McKay and Buchert presented "The Study of Microaggressive Behavior within Higher Education" on June 3 at the American College Health Association (ACHA) annual meeting in Phoenix. The collaborative research was initiated at Longwood in 2007 by Drs. Rachel Mathews, professor of education; Fleming; and Walls-McKay. The project has been partially funded through a Dean's Faculty Development Award and an American Democracy Project grant.

The 90-minute presentation was based on a study that examined the ways in which Longwood students have experienced microaggression, which are subtle forms of aggression based on discrimination. Microaggressive behaviors are sly, subtle reactions, either verbal or nonverbal, based on differences or perceived differences. The term, coined in 1978 by psychiatrist Charles M. Pierce, originally focused on racially charged incidents but more recently is expanding to include other forms of subtle aggression.

The survey yielded frequency of microaggressive behavior and offered students the opportunity to describe their experiences. Examples of microaggression found in the Longwood study include a male subtly rushing a female using workout equipment, students at a nearby table making rude comments while a student was praying before a meal in the dining hall, and a student with a country accent before referred to as "stupid."

The majority of survey respondents had experienced microaggression. Also, many had experienced microaggression frequently. "Microaggression is commonplace, and it tends to happen to the same people multiple times," said Walls-McKay. "We are concerned about how students and bystanders are affected. We want to better know how students who have experienced microaggression are coping, and we want to educate and empower them."

Said Buchert: "Most victims choose not to respond. Perpetrators include peers, professors, staff members. Everybody does it, and it has lasting effects. It's creating a culture of intolerance, and it could possibly affect such factors as student well-being and student retention."

There also have been presentations on the study on campus, including the Wednesdays with Women's and Gender Studies lecture series in December 2010 (by all three researchers) and a Blackwell Talk in February 2010 (by Walls-McKay and Fleming).

"We hope our findings and outreach will help to contribute to a more inclusive campus environment," Walls-McKay said.